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Defining a Precipitous Increase in Crime

By Ashley Schultz

The current grants landscape features several law enforcement programs with language prioritizing projects that respond to a “precipitous increase in crime.” This word choice – alluding to a sudden, and steep hike in a certain criminal activity – is pulled directly from annual budget authorizations for the Department of Justice. And while this may not be a new focus area in grantmaking for the Department, it’s worth taking a moment to outline exactly what that definition means, and how it may impact your agency when seeking consideration under these conditions in a future application.

The specific text for this mandate is listed under the budget allocation for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program. It states (rather briefly) that the Attorney General is allowed to reserve up to 5% of JAG funding to “to combat, address, or otherwise respond to precipitous or extraordinary increases in crime” each year. In 2018, that 5% set aside amounts to a total of $20 million.

The Department satisfies this directive through a combination of grant initiatives. Some programs dedicate 100% of funding to addressing precipitous increase in crime. In 2018, this is exemplified best by the Technology Innovation for Public Safety (TIPS) program, with $3,500,000 set aside for seven awards. Other solicitations - such as the Strategies for Policing Innovation (SPI) program - devote only a small focus area or singular program category to such activities as part of the larger effort.
So, what does this all mean for the bottom line on grant proposals? In those programs that ONLY fund activities to address extraordinary hikes in crime, applicants will be limited in the type and scale of their solution. Proposed TIPS projects, for example, must be used to specifically address the singular crime identified in the proposal. Further, projects must be deployed in jurisdictions proven to experience this crime most severely. The Department has stated it will review all data presented – corroborated with other available crime statistics – to verify each applicant meets the threshold of a “precipitous increase in crime” prior to award consideration.

In your next application…
If your agency is looking to highlight a hike in crime in a future application, spend some time analyzing local statistics. Select a crime problem that is severely impacting one or more localized areas. Examples may include gun crime, burglary, illegal substance abuse, or intimate partner violence. The more specific, the better here - Avoid making broad, sweeping claims or generalizing problems to an entire City or County. This attention to detail, along with strong assertions based on area data, will resonate with grant reviewers looking to prioritize evidence-based projects.

In order to show a swift increase in the identified crime, select two years of data for comparison. A recent example is provided by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and available at https://www.bja.gov/funding/TIPS18.pdf. Year 1 serves as a baseline, while Year 2 illustrates the year that experienced the precipitous crime increase. For easy comparison, the Department recommends you illustrate change over time in the form of a ratio - expressed per a standardized population of 100,000.

All of this work leads to the percent change – or difference between Year 1 and Year 2. This value is that “precipitous increase in crime” grant funders are most interested in for programs such as TIPS and SPI. Interestingly enough, there currently is no set target value that qualifies an increase as precipitous. If you’re concerned the percent change is too low for consideration, contemplate expanding the geographic target area to include additional streets or neighborhood districts. You may also re-calculate the formula with different years for comparison. Otherwise, look to garner additional points in your narrative portion, highlighting the adverse impacts of this spike and identifying exactly how your project intends to address the issue.

For more information on the SPI program, check out our summary on page 21 of the May 2018 issue of FUNDED. Even if your agency is not interested in applying for grant opportunities this year, the sentiment conveyed in these solicitations can be used in other proposals down the road. Exemplifying a strong grasp of your local statistics will improve any grant application. The ability to illustrate that data in a specific geographic area over a defined time period will provide even further evidence for the overall need – or importance - of your proposed project. Regardless of solicitation, use these tools to give grant reviewers better insight (and extra points) to your next proposal